May 22 2010

Malawi – diary 2010-05-02 to 2010-05-14

2010-05-02 to 2010-05-14

Malawi, ‘The Land of the Lake’ and ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’ was African country number 18 for Kirk and me. Malawi is known for the expansive mass of fresh water that is enclosed by sheer mountains on either side forming a large section of the Great African Rift Valley. Edged by palm fringed white sandy beaches it was certainly a destination that we were eager to get to. Malawi exudes serious warmth with its bright blue skies and sunny days as well as its friendly locals who make anyone feel right at home.

 Our 1st stop was Lilongwe, the nation’s capital city. We had passed through a very easy border crossing, where the Malawian officials welcomed us to their country with bright smiles and warm handshakes. The scenery was predominantly made up of 80kms of rural farmland and small villages made up of mud huts and thatched roofs. Malawi was beginning to resemble rural Africa again and we were somewhat at ease with this idea. 

Lilongwe was an unusual place. It is not very grand for a capital city but it had the bare essentials to keep the residents happy; a great big Shoprite, fuel stations, clothing stores and restaurants. We made our way to Mabuya Camp where we settled in for the evening. It had been a long day of driving, all the way from South Luangwa National Park in Zambia to Lilongwe in Malawi. The campsite was the hive of activity with a big overlander vehicle and 4 independent overlanders including Kirk and myself. One of the vehicles was a 1955 fire engine which had been converted into a fully contained ‘house’ that had driven all the way from Germany by a family of 4. Johanna and Marcel and their 2 daughters were stuck in Lilongwe as their vehicle had encountered some mechanical problems and they were in need of a mechanic. We chatted to them in the evening and obtained some useful information about our trip up north.

We departed the following morning with the intention of getting to Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi. The road wound up the Rift Valley Mountains and took us to a height of 2000 meters. When we emerged from the valleys we were treated to our first view of the lake, a sapphire blue shimmering mass of water nestled between 2 mountain ranges…it was spectacular! We made our way to Flat Monkeys Camp which was situated right on the beach just outside of the small village of Cape Maclear. We found that Okkie, Ansie, Bettie and Jannie, South African people we had met in South Luangwa National Park, were camped up in the camp ground and so said hello before rushing off to enquire about SCUBA diving courses run at another camp further up the beach. We settled in for the evening and enjoyed the 1st of many sunsets over Lake Malawi.

The next day was full of ‘tourist’ activities. Jannie and Okkie had booked a boat to take them snorkelling, fishing and Fish Eagle feeding and asked Kirk and me if we wanted to join them. We accepted, packed some lunch into a cool box and headed out onto the lake. The snorkelling was surprisingly very good with an array of little inquisitive Cichlids (mbuna rock fish) swimming amongst us and feeding frantically off the bread held by Okkie. The water was crystal clear and a balmy 26 degree celcius. We boarded the boat again and made our way a little bit further along the lake when the local boys on the boat started whistling to attract the Fish Eagles. They threw small fish onto the surface of the lake and we waited for the Fish Eagles to swoop in and collect their lunch. The Fish Eagles call was in abundance and there were up to 6 birds circling ahead at one stage. They are magnificent creatures and their call will always be associated as the call of Africa. The boys tried their luck at fishing but were only successful at catching a great tan. We returned to the shore just after lunchtime where we enjoyed a relaxed afternoon. Kirk and I took a stroll back to the dive centre and booked ourselves on a dive for the following day. We hadn’t dived in over 2 years and thought that a freshwater dive in a lake would be a good refresher and prepare us for future dives in East Africa.

That evening, we all descended upon the beachside bar for sundowners. It had been a magnificent day and we were rewarded with the most sensational sunset over the mighty Lake Malawi. The wine from Jannie and Betties wine farm, Skilpadvlei, was flowing and resulted in us having to postpone our 9am dive to 2pm as we were feeling the effects of it the following morning.

The dive was refreshing and we welcomed the pure air into our bodies! We explored some caves, saw an eel and an abundance of Cichlids and descended to 20meters. The water had cooled down and both Kirk and I surfaced 45 minutes later feeling chilled to the bone and so welcomed the warm sun onto our bodies. The dive was not as spectacular as we were hoping for but we were pleased that we were able to refresh our skills and become familiar with certain procedures. That evening we enjoyed a chicken potjie with our South African friends and an early night.

Most people set off the following morning. Kirk and I had decided to stay until Friday and so after saying farewell to the people we had spent the last 3 days with we went for a walk through the village and enjoyed a village tour. Cape Maclear is a beautiful place with an exceptionally chilled vibe. We enjoyed the tourist activities and found the villagers’ peaceful, friendly and so welcoming.

We left Cape Maclear on Friday having spent 4 days in paradise and headed south towards Mangochi so that we could exchange money and stock up on a few basics. We popped into Sun n Sand, a resort 29km north of Mangochi where Yolla’s (a very good friend of mine) sister is the manager. Upon arrival she welcomed us with open arms and told us that we were to stay until Monday. She put us up in a VIP suite and instructed her staff that we were to pay for nothing. We were taken back by her generosity and when we said that it was far too generous and that we couldn’t possibly stay until Monday for free she would hear nothing of it and insisted. We were treated to wonderful food, a very comfortable suite, stunning views of the lake and Kirk’s ultimate favourite…Super Sport. He was able to catch up on some Super 14 action and with the Sharks beating the Stormers he was a very happy camper! We used the time to relax and plan our onward travels. Time was ticking by and with careful consideration as not to offend Bella; we decided that we should leave on Sunday as we still had a vast distance to travel. We thanked Bella profusely for her hospitality and she sent us on our way with a big bag of gifts from the resort gift shop. We were deeply touched by her immense generosity.

Liwonde National Park was our next stop. Malawi is only 840km long from north to south and is nowhere more than 160km wide so distances are easy to cover. Liwonde was an hour and a half drive from Mangochi and we arrived at the park in time to do a game drive and spot various different animals such as elephant, antelope and crocodiles. Liwonde is rumoured to have the big 5 but with lions only being spotted once in the last 2 years and leopard residing in the thick trees covering the mountainside it is very difficult to see all big 5 in one stay. We set up camp in Chinguini Hills, a camp and lodge situated in the heart of the National Park. Essentially you are camping in and amongst the animals and this was evident that night when we were awoken by the loud chewing sounds of elephant who were literally right outside of our tent. They were having a feeding frenzy, tearing leaves and branches off the nearby trees. When they decided that they were done grazing around our tent their feeding sounds were replaced by that of a whooping hyena. It was spine chilling but an awesome experience.

We set off as early as possible to fit in another game drive before we departed for Nyika Platea. The grass was still very thick from the late rains and game viewings were pretty much hit and miss. We did however have a lot of entertainment when about 20 tsetse flies entered the car. Kirk and I were flapping madly trying to get rid of these sleeping sickness carriers and eventually had to resort to a can of doom. When we were satisfied that no flies had survived we spotted a roan and sable antelope, our first sighting of this type of antelope. We were still in search of a buffalo as we still had not been fortunate enough to bear witness to one as yet but we left empty handed and headed back towards Lake Malawi and the town of Chintheche.

Our arrival into northern Malawi had put us back into rural Africa. We had bought tomatoes from a street side vendor and bought some street food for lunch. We were back into the bartering groove and realised just how much we had missed it!

We descended upon a lodge called Nkhwazi Lodge which was nestled between 2 coves. The sand was white and the blue lake water was lapping onto it gently. The manager told us that the owner was looking to sell the lodge as he was not well and needed to get out of the business. This had Kirk and me thinking what we could do with a place in a prime location such as this lodge. We spent the better part of the evening dreaming about future investments and what life would be like living on the shores of Lake Malawi. All we can do is dream…we still have our initial dream to complete and we were thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.

The bright orange and purple hues woke me up the following morning where I bore witness to the best sunrise I had ever seen in my life! Lake Malawi was full of surprises and our positioning meant that we hadn’t had a spectacular sunset the previous evening but this sunrise most certainly made up for it. We were up and on the road by 9am and headed up the Rift Mountains and onto the Plateau. We drove past some rubber plantations and through the towns of Mzuzu and Rhumphi where we eventually reached the gates to the Nyika Plateau National Park. We had debated whether or not we should visit this park as it didn’t really have much to offer in the form of animal viewing but when we arrived we were pleased with our decision to drive for 5 hours because it was spectacular. The scenery resembled that of the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa with emerald green undulating hills running as far s the eye could see. We took a slow drive along some of the safari tracks which took us through pine forests and 3 dams that were stocked with trout. The game was sparse apart from the numerous Roan antelope and impala. We made our way back to the camping area and set up our tent for the evening. The temperature plummeted and we enjoyed our dinner in front of a roaring log fire. The atmosphere was grand and thoroughly enjoyed the contrast between the biting cold air and warm caress of the open fire.

The cold air had subsided during the night and we awoke to find that a thick mist had engulfed the hills. As the sun got warmer the mist lifted and revealed the green and gold undulating hills that spread into the valley. The hills were scattered with zebra and Roan antelope, a perfect view to enjoy our coffee and rusks.

Trout fishing was on the agenda for day and so we booted our feet in our hiking boots, which had not been used since Mt Cameroon, and took a leisurely walk to Dam 2 where Kirk tried his luck with his fly fishing rod. The setting was magnificent and we felt as though we were the only 2 people in this beautiful highland setting. The sun was shining and drying up the dew sodden grass and even better, the fish were biting. After a good 2 hours of me lazing on the lakeside and Kirk casting his fly we took a stroll to Dam 1 which was situated right in front of the camp reception. We enjoyed a modest lunch of chicken mayo sandwiches and juice on the banks of the dam and then tackled the 2km uphill walk back to our campsite. We had thoroughly enjoyed our morning stroll but were made aware of the fact that we were both very unfit and in desperate need of some serious training before we even think about taking on Kilimanjaro! The afternoon was spent relaxing and by 4pm the chilly air had settled upon us and so we lit a huge fire and spent the better part of the evening huddled close to the flame reading, eating and enjoying a descent bottle of red wine. We were certainly becoming civilised campers!

The rain was coming down when we awoke the following morning which prompted us to get a move on and pack up with haste. We were on the road by 8am and making our way back towards Lake Malawi. The road took us through some meandering roads and we came upon a pass that descended from 1200m to 500m in a series of sharp hairpin bends. The view of the lake was once again spectacular. The northern part of the lake is a lot more wild and undeveloped which means that the water is unspoilt and still used primarily for fishing. Once we reached the lake shore we prepared ourselves for another ascent. We had decided to visit Livingstonia, a village perched at 1200m at the top of the mountain. We read the warning in the Bradt guide to Malawi which warned travellers not to attempt the ascent in their own vehicle unless it was a high clearance 4×4. We had this and so thought ‘why not’? We started the incline slowly and we climbed and climbed and climbed from 500m to 1200m in 16 kilometres of steep dirt track and a ridiculous number of hairpin bends. We eventually reached the first of the lodges, Mushroom Farm. We drove down the steep driveway and parked in the parking area so that we could enquire about costs. When I got out of the car I noticed a huge oil leak. The Front diff was losing oil at a rapid speed and upon closer inspection; Kirk noticed that the radial arm bracket that is usually attached to the front axel had broken off and had exposed a hole which was where the differential oil was leaking from. We were in a pickle as we were literally in the middle of nowhere and we had a precipitous 16km decline to make before we could get to civilisation. We were told by some local guys at The Mushroom Farm that there was a mechanic at the hospital who may be able to help us. We were in need of a welding machine and this was our closest option. We set off, very slowly and cautiously, in search of the infamous hospital mechanic. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the hospital and saw a descent looking garage but still had to find the mechanic that was going to save us. We asked at one of the clinics in the hospital and they pointed to a corrugated tin roof house that was covered in green moss. This was the house of Lovemore the mechanic.

We knocked sheepishly on the door of Lovemore’s house and we were welcomed in by his wife. Lovemore was stretched out on the couch watching Days of Our Lives. We explained our situation to him and he was more than willing to help. He took us over to the garage and set about preparing for the repairing of Mvubu. The latest of equipment was pulled out of an office and the best welding equipment was part of it. During the 5 hours that it took to weld the radial arm bracket back onto the front axel we learnt that Lovemore had done his training at the local technical school but had also spent 3 months in Scotland where he was taught how to weld. We had a lot of confidence in this well educated mechanic and he did an excellent job (apart from a minor mishap when he managed to knick the brake line during his last weld). We were so grateful for Lovemore’s help and we drove away confident that Mvubu would last the rest of the African journey. We were a little bit apprehensive about the ‘repaired’ brake line as we had a very steep 16km descent to make the following morning and we were praying that Kirk’s makeshift repair using Pratley’s metal solder would do the job.  We made our way down to Lechwe Camp where we were welcomed by a very surprised owner. Not many people choose to drive up the pass in the dark and he was surprised to see us arriving well after 7pm. We explained that we had been up at the hospital fixing Mvubu and that we had in fact done the ascent at 2pm. After a couple of beers we retired to bed thoroughly exhausted and very hungry.

The rain was falling when we woke up from our slumber the following morning. Both Kirk and I were ravenous given that we hadn’t eaten since breakfast the previous morning. We made a scrummy fry up and relished every morsel. Livingstonia is famous for many historical things but its geographical fame is that of a 250meter high waterfall that falls from a gorge into the valley below. Lechwe Camp was a gorgeous campsite which was completely eco friendly with the best smelling self composting toilets I have used. The owners have really put their heart and soul into maintaining the facilities and improving it at any given opportunity. We spent the morning sitting on the deck, which overlooked the valley and Lake Malawi, reading books and taking in the view. When the rain subsided we took a stroll to the waterfall. It was a brisk 25 minute walk through organic vegetable gardens and natural vegetation until we reached a viewing point for the falls. They were really impressive and with the recent rains their power was exacerbated as they plummeted onto the rocks below. Livingstonia was a really lovely place to visit and we would have stayed longer had we not been on a tight schedule. We made a move just after lunch and headed for the Tanzanian border.

Malawi was one of the most beautiful countries we had visited. It really did live up to all of its given names. One thing that amazed me the most were the pedal bike taxis. Young and old extremely fit men transport people on the back of their bicycles to neighbouring towns. It is not only people they transport, they also carry sacks of rice, wheat, maize, tomatoes, sugar cane, planks of wood, cages of chickens, you name it they transport it! I was in complete admiration of these men who used pure pedal power to make a living. Malawi really did get us back into the African groove and restored our energy to continue with the rest of our African adventure.

[book id=’24’ /]


May 19 2010

Zambia – diary 2010-04-24 to 2010-05-02

2010-04-24 to 2010-05-02

We crossed into Zambia via the Wenella-Sesheke border post. All went smoothly at immigration but customs proved to be very expensive. We were told that we had to pay ZK112 500 for insurance, ZK200 000 for Carbon Emission Taxes (there are so many trees and so few industries in Zambia my mind still ponders the reason for this tax), KZ92 500 for Transport and Safety Agency and the last straw was the KZ31 600 for community tax. This all amounted to KZ436 600 or €70 all to drive a vehicle in Zambia So with many Euros out of pocket we headed towards Livingstone in the hope of seeing Vic Falls and possibly doing some sort of  wild activity that the area is famous for. The drive there reminded us that we were in Africa! We couldn’t help noticing just how rural Zambia was in comparison to Namibia. We had a feeling of gratitude as Zambia would be a good reintroduction into the African way of life, but not in a harsh way, as we would still have the luxury of shopping at Shoprite and other westernised stores.

We drove through the town in search of a Foreign Exchange Bureau only to find that all of banks and exchange offices were closed. Our only option was to use the dodgy black market guys who park themselves conveniently outside the closed Forex offices. We should have taken the guide books advice and given these guys a wide berth because as it turned out they managed to scam us out of £100 by their fast fingers and sweet talking. Kirk called off the deal when they decided to change the rate at the last minute and when they returned our cash which hadn’t actually left Kirk’s hand there were 5 £20 notes missing. After driving down the road for 30 seconds and counting the money we realised what they had done. Kirk gave chase on foot. He managed to catch one of the perpetrators who claimed he had done no business with us and was making such a noise that he was beginning to attract a crowd. Kirk thought that it was probably in his best interest to leave him and get the help of a military man who too was coming to investigate what all the commotion was about. Kirk returned to the car and we went in search of the other 2 assailants who we managed to spot but they managed to out run Mvubu. He certainly was not made to pursue criminals at high speed and narrow roads. There was nothing we could do; we had just lost £100 due to our own stupidity and carelessness.

Our spirits were definitely dampened. It was our 1st negative African experience and harsh realisation of just how complacent we had become. With our tail between our legs, we made our way to Livingstone Safari Camp where Kirk fixed the starter solenoid and I did some washing. We were in no mood to do anything touristy and so stayed in the campsite in the hope of an improved mood in the morning. We spoke to the owner, Tjiss, who was very helpful in assisting us with our future travel plans in and around Zambia.

The following morning was a gloomy day and started with rain. We decided to treat ourselves and headed into town to the local coffee shop where we enjoyed a Full English Breakfast. We then found a great little restaurant that had Wi-Fi where we spent the remainder of the day drinking tea, updating the blog and reading magazines. It certainly was a very lazy day which was just what Kirk and I needed. We certainly were not yet ready to give up the luxuries that the western world has to offer. We had spent the last week driving every day and we were in need of a bit of R and R. On the way back to camp we stopped in at the viewing point for Vic Falls, took some pics of the spray and settled in for the evening.

Lake Kariba was next on our itinerary and with the prospect of possibly doing some sailing we headed towards The Houseboat Company only to find that they were no longer in business. After further investigation it became apparent that we were not going to be able to hire a yacht for a couple of days and so had to change our plans yet again. We drove a further 80kms along the lake shore and arrived at Kariba Bush Club, a beautiful lodge set right on Kariba with stunning views of the lake. We stayed for 2 days and again used the time to relax, do car maintenance, and plan our stay in Zambia. Mvubu has had bad luck with his tyres. We found that the rear right tyre had not one but two nails in it resulting in a slow puncture. We also found that the rim was also leaking again!

 The late rains had caused havoc with out travel itinerary and after speaking to the manager of Kariba Bush Club it was certain that many of the things we wanted to do in Zambia were impossible at this time of year so after careful consideration we decided to give the Lower Zambezi National Park a miss and head on to South Luangwa National Park. We stopped off in Lusaka for one night to sort out a Yellow Card for insurance and camped at Eureka Camping where we met our 1st Overlander Truck group as well as some other independent overlanders who had been travelling for 1½ years through West Africa and were now tackling the East.

Our trip to South Luangwa took 10 hours from Lusaka but took us through the most beautiful scenery. Zambia was looking healthy and green after the abundant rains they had received. The sugar cane fields towered in height and the wild flowers were in bloom. There are many farming programmes being initiated in the rural areas with Sunflower seeds being one of the easiest crops to grow and maintain. With the sunflowers in full bloom it was impossible to feel glum. We arrived at Flatdogs Camp, a safari camp right outside the gates of the National Park, when the heavens opened and Zambia received yet another douse of late rain. Our spirits were not dampened by this and with the prospect of seeing leopard, elephant and lion in the park we made our way to our campsite. We were instructed to be very aware of our surroundings as the hippos like to come out of the Luangwa River and into the camp at night to graze. Kirk and I were filled with a renewed sense of adventure and we were now faced with being in the real wilderness with the prospect of wild animals entering our personal space at night!

The sunshine the following morning gave us the opportunity to explore our surroundings that would be home for the next few days. Flatdogs Camp is set in the most beautiful setting; right on the Luangwa River it affords you the opportunity to spot hippos and crocodiles during the day and if you were as lucky as Kirk and me, a bull elephant drinking and eating on the opposite side of the bank. We hadn’t even entered the park yet and were already getting glimpses of the wildlife that existed there. Our days were so peaceful and the silence was only disturbed by the grunting of the hippos, the cheeky laugh of the monkeys and baboons and the sweet chirping and singing of the birds.

On our third day at Flatdogs Camp we were blessed with the most incredible sighting. A bull elephant had entered the camp and had ensured that everyone staying in the campsite knew of his presence. He trumpeted through his trunk and munched noisily on the leaves of a nearby tree which was followed by a very unusual action.The elephant decided to take a nap and actually lay himself down supporting his hefty body by resting it on the roots of the tree that he had been grazing on earlier. This was a very rare sighting and we were fortunate enough to capture this moment on camera. Our elephant friend was not bothered by the movement of people around him (we were being exceptionally quiet and kept a safe distance) and proceeded to fall into a deep sleep accompanied by snores and grunts. At 4pm after tea, coffee and a peanut butter cookie we set off on a night drive in the hope of spotting some leopard. The previous evenings’ night drive had seen leopard and lions so we were very hopeful.

The park was just stunning. It had huge aesthetic appeal and the recent rains had ensured that the vegetation was lush which showed that the herbivores were thriving in these conditions. The elephants were in abundance, there were parades and parades of them. It was a treat to be able to observe these magnificent creatures at such close proximity and watch how they shelter their young from any possible danger. The antelope were also on their best behaviour with 2 male Waterbuck locking their horns and giving us a display of typical animal behaviour and the Impala raising the signal by whistling through their noses. It really was an education and a privilege to be submerged into the wilderness to observe the animal instincts. Our game ranger had got wind of a pride of lions up ahead and was desperately trying to get us to witness them before sunset but with so much to see he was finding this a near impossible task. We reached the pride of lions during the golden hour. They were waking up from their afternoon slumber and were going about their daily ‘ablutions’ before setting out for a night of hunting. They were magnificent. Ginger, a male lion in the pride, was a sight to behold. The game rangers named him so because he has a somewhat distinctive coat which is much lighter than that of a usual lion. The lions set off to catch their dinner and we settled on the bank of the Luangwa River for sundowners before our night drive began. South Luangwa National Park is one the only parks that allows for spot lit night drives. This was a perfect opportunity to spot some of the nocturnal species that hunt at night. We saw an abundance of civet cats, hyenas and bush babies but unfortunately no allusive leopard! We returned to the camp satisfied with our game viewing and turned in for the evening.

We decided to cut our time in Zambia short. We had really enjoyed South Luangwa National Park and Flatdogs Camp and would have loved to have ventured further north but the weather was not playing ball with us and we didn’t want to be disappointed by not being able to access many of the location due to flooded plains or inaccessible river crossings. We decided it was best to head east, towards Malawi, and perhaps visit Zambia another time to explore the more remote areas.

We enjoyed the drive back to the main road which took us through traditional villages and subsistence farming land. It is always a novelty to watch the local people carry out their daily activities; the women busy in the villages plucking the corn from the cob and drying them on grass mats, the children playing football with home made soccer balls and shouting ‘Hello! Hello!’ when we drive by and the men either sitting under a tree or riding their bicycles that are laden with sacks of dried corn. It is a basic life that they live out here in rural Africa and the thing that amazes me the most is that they always have a smile on their face and seem so happy and content with life.

[book id=’23’ /]


May 19 2010

Namibia – diary 2010-04-04 to 2010-04-24

2010-04-04 to 2010-04-05

We arrived in Namibia worn out and exhausted but elated with our progress over the last few days. The unavailability of affordable fresh produce for the duration of our border dash had meant that we had been living on tinned food. We had perfected our Spaghetti Bolognese made with Bully Beef and we had perfected a cheesy tuna pasta made with packet sauce. We were all desperate for some wholesome fresh fruit and vegetables but before we went shopping we treated ourselves to a juicy Wimpy cheese burger and cream soda. It went down a treat and our lack of breakfast resulted in both Kirk and me wolfing it down in a matter of minutes.  Being Easter Sunday most supermarkets were closed when we were ready to shop but we managed to find a local supermarket that stocked just about everything we wanted. We bought some boerewors and salad stuff and made our way to a rest camp 80 km down the road. Kirk was leading the convoy of 3 cars and just as he had uttered the words ‘we must keep an eye on our speed’ we were pulled over by the traffic police. We were doing 85km in a 60km zone and were now faced with a fine. We couldn’t believe our luck…after travelling over 20 000km through West Africa, and not being stopped once by the police for a traffic infringement, we were now faced with this! Kirk tried to pull all the usual tricks out of the bag such as, ‘When was the radar gun last serviced?’ and ‘Can I see your operation certificate? But they proved fruitless as the officer could provide both of this detail. The last straw was me seeing the other officer giving a speeding motorist a wagging finger rather than pulling him over. I stepped in and argued about their inconsistency and that we were being treated unfairly. In the end Kirk was told to go and pay the fine at the police station whilst I waited with the traffic police as they were holding his licence until he returned. This proved to be very entertaining.

In the time that Kirk was absent, the traffic officers must have pulled over at least 15 motorists for speeding. Each one was dealt with in the same manner as we were and were issued tickets. One guy was caught doing 125km in a 60km zone. The Officer explained to me that this was an immediate lock up and he would have to pay N$1000 bail or spend the night in jail. He would then have to appear in court where if he pleaded guilty he would be issued a fine. They are seriously uncorrupted in Namibia and when a mini van failed to stop at the officer’s request they were pursued at high speed by the traffic police, sirens and all, and brought to justice. He too was going to ‘lock up’. Kirk eventually returned and we were free to continue on our way to the campsite. The rest of the crew had continued along and we met up with them at Ondongwa Rest Camp which was in flood. The rains we had experienced the previous evening in Angola had also wreaked havoc in Namibia. We were wading calf deep between our cars and the paved area. This didn’t manage to put a damper on our spirits and we enjoyed boerewors rolls with salad for dinner. We were in civilization and relishing every living moment of it.

The long days of driving had taken their toll on all of us and after a hot, steaming shower, feeling cleaner than ever, we fell into bed only to wake up early the next morning to make our way to Windhoek.

We were on the road again before 7am as we had over 700km to travel. The road was perfectly tarred and apart from the numerous police road blocks we managed to enjoy a scenic drive that bypassed Etosha and many other smaller game farms. This afforded us the opportunity to do a fair bit of game spotting which included many Thompson Gazelle, Wildebeest, Warthog and Baboons. We stopped in very briefly at Otjiwarongo where we got some lunch. The drive through West Africa had done some serious damage and we were now craving all the bad things that we had done without for so long. Shoprite had a good array of unhealthy snacks and we left the shop armed with 2 pies, a bag of Niknaks and Big Corn Bites, 2 bottles of cream soda and copious amounts of dried fruit. At least there were some healthy snacks in amongst all of the junk. Kirks weight loss of almost 20 kilograms meant that he could afford to pig out.

We made it into Windhoek in good time and managed to secure a camping spot at Backpackers Unite. We treated ourselves to dinner at Primi Piatti and then made our way back to the backpackers only to flop into bed in anticipation of a very busy week to come. Mvubu needed to have some work done and we knew it was going to be a time consuming affair.

2010-04-06 to 2010-04-09

We were up at the crack of dawn and made our way to various different places where many various people helped us by pointing us in the right direction. It turned out that Mvubu needed to have his prop shaft repaired, a new steel bracket welded for the auxiliary fuel tank, new brake springs and rattle plates installed, the rear shocks replaced, the leaky rims needed to be welded and he needed a general service to check that all the drive shafts were operating well and that the exhaust was alright.

The removal of the prop shaft revealed that the rear diff was leaking therefore that needed to be fixed, as well as the fact that the exhaust had blown a gasket and that needed to be repaired. It was a trying time and in the end we managed to see a little bit of Windhoek’s Town Centre as well as get to know all of the industrial areas and workshops like the back of our hand. We were successful in getting all of Mvubu’s affairs seen to which meant that we were free to explore Namibia without the stress of having to do car maintenance and admin. Kirk was extremely pleased to have negotiated the replacement of all 4 Old Man Emu shocks at no expense. They are guaranteed for 2 years or 40 000km which we had done neither of. The West African roads had been tough on the suspension but with all 4 shocks renewed, Mvubu left with a spring in his step. I tagged along with Kirk for all of these jobs and got to know the ins and outs of Mvubu’s anatomy. It is good to know that he is in tip top working order and will be able to carry us for another 50 000km. The guys at Powerflow were a wealth of information and were so friendly and helpful. We were overwhelmed by the friendliness of the Namibian people and were excited to get out and explore the rest of the vast wilderness that Namibia had to offer.

As a treat for being a good bystander through all of the boring mechanic stuff, Kirk treated me to a fix of clothing shopping. I visited Mr Price and bough 3 new items to add to my travel wardrobe (all practical purchases I’m afraid – no high fashion!) – Man I have missed shopping!

Windhoek is a beautiful city and has a very quaint feeling about it. Most things are within walking distance of each other and the city centre is geared for tourists. We left the following morning $N10 000 (R10000) lighter in the pocket but pleased that we wouldn’t have to worry about car maintenance for a while.

2010-04-10

Kirk and I had slept well…after spending most of the evening packing the car and sorting out the copious amounts of groceries we had bought we felt slightly more energised and were excited to be heading to Swatkopmund. The B2 took us through the Kalahari Desert where the heat was unbearable at times. Namibia’s west coast has a stark beauty about it and it was surreal to be travelling through this dry barren desert via the Trans Kalahari Highway with mountains surrounding the barren, flat landscape. We bypassed the Rossing Mountains which are home to a huge Uranium open cast mine. We were intrigued by this and so took a slight detour into the mountains where I was afforded the opportunity to snap away at a disused mine and again build on my Geography resources.

We arrived in Swatkopmund just after lunchtime and were amazed at the change in temperature. The cold Benguela Current creates a cold, dry barren climate on the west coast of South Africa and we were experiencing it first hand. Christine and Joe had caught up with us and we settled in for an evening of a Lamb Potjie and camp fire. For the first time in ages we pulled out the winter woollies and wrapped up warmly against the bitterly cold ocean air.

2010-04-11

We were all in the mood for a little bit of adventure so we visited the NET offices in Swatkopmud, purchased a permit for the Namib-Naukluft and headed south to Walvis Bay. The drive was once again stunning. Huge salt works border Walvis Bay and the desert dunes which made for the most arresting scenery. Kirk was in his element at the prospect of pillaging as much free salt as possible. Unfortunately it was mixed with a lot of sand so we gave it a miss and left him to lick a few salt crystals instead. Our first dune attempt was foiled by the lack of speed, too much air in the tyres and Mvubu’s weight. It was quite a steep dune and after 3 attempts we decided it would be better to drive around the dune and get to Sandwich Bay before high tide. Again I emphasise the beautiful scenery. The dunes towered above us…this was real desert and these were the dunes we had longed to see in Timbuktu and Mauritania. These were David Attenborough dunes and we were excited at the prospect of getting up close and personal with them. We navigated ourselves along some old tracks that led us to the base of a dune field. Kirk wanted to get up as far as possible so that we could get a photograph of all of us surrounded by dunes…this is when we ran into the first bit of trouble. Mvubu managed to get stuck in some soft sand for the reason that there was an incline in front of us as well as behind us resulting in the inability to get enough speed to get out of the depression of sand. Kirk managed to dig Mvubu in and he was resting comfortably on his rear axle. We were all on our hands and knees digging to China but the sand was so soft that it didn’t help at all. We tried to go backwards and forwards but were making absolutely no progress. The sand ladders were the only solution and it would be the first time we would use them. They worked a charm and in no time at all Mvubu was free to ride the crest of the dunes once again! Time had unfortunately ticked on by and the tide was nearly high which meant that we would need to find an alternate route to Sandwich Bay. Again we followed some fresh tracks through some hair raising dune driving. It was spectacular and much fun until we were faced with a very difficult situation. The driver of the fresh tracks was obviously driving a light vehicle that was not encumbered with ones worldly possessions and he had managed to manoeuvre his vehicle along the crest of a very steep dune at an extremely precarious angle. We were just not willing to chance the risk of toppling over and being stranded for days on end in the desert. We decided to turn around but Mvubu was having none of it. He decided that enough was enough and would not start. We had been experiencing a problem with the starter solenoid since Burkina Faso and it was up to its shenanigans again. It was a trying moment but in the end he started up again. We again had to use the sand ladders to turn around and get out of the forbidding position we had landed ourselves in. Our nerves were shot and with lunchtime long gone we decided that it was time to make our way back to the sea, make some lunch and watch the tide. This was a welcome break for all of us and whilst enjoying potjie rolls we were joined by 2 jackals that were very inquisitive and not afraid of humans at all. This afforded us the opportunity to snap away and get many photographs of these mysterious creatures.

The tide had subsided somewhat and we were able to make a dash to Sandwich Bay. It again was a hair raising drive that left me feeling frazzled and very stressed out. Beach diving is my absolute worst ad Kirk knows that I freak out every time we get too close to the waters edge or hit soft sand. I have seen far too many vehicles submerged in sand and watched as the waves engulf the poor car. If that had to happen to Mvubu, we would be stranded! The reward at the end was worth all the stress. Sandwich Bay was spectacular. The dunes cascaded right onto the beach and were streaked with various different colours. Flamingos stood in the lagoon below the dunes which made for the most beautiful photographs. The adventure was most certainly happening and the excitement of the day’s events had left all of us utterly exhausted. We made our way back to the campsite where we enjoyed a braai and reminisced about the day’s activity. Sandwich Bay is so named because you literally are sandwiched between the dunes and the Atlantic Ocean to get there.

2010-04-12

The Skeleton Coast has always been a place that Kirk and I have longed to visit. The image conjured up in our minds was that of a barren coastline scattered with ship wrecks and covered with an eerie mist. We were quite disappointed to find out that we were not permitted to drive up the entire Skeleton Coast and that we were restricted to only staying on the relevant roads in the Skeleton Coast Recreational Park. If we wanted to drive up as far as the Kunene River we would have needed to have booked into one of the very expensive, very exclusive safari lodges as these people were the exclusive concession holders. This was unfortunately out of our price range so we decided take a slow drive along the coast passing by a relatively new ship wreck, Cape Cross and the seal colony and finally reaching the Skeleton Coast Recreational Park gates. The drive up took us through vast areas of salt pans. The road was good albeit corrugated at times but the stark landscapes were enough to distract anyone from the bone shaking roads. We entered the creepy looking gates that resembled something from a theme park and drove into the Recreational Area. The roads were set away from the coastline which made shipwreck viewing quite difficult. We were not allowed to get out of the car and so were restricted to really exploring the area. We drove straight through in 2½ hours. The scenery started to change as we headed inland with the salt plains growing into mountains and the stark landscape showing signs of vegetation and life. We spotted a few Gemsbok, Springbok and Zebra grazing on the sparse plants. The temperature also changed significantly as we ascended the escarpment. The cold air f the Benguela was a thing of the past and we were now suffocated by the hot dry air of the Highveld. A storm was brewing on the horizon and the lightening was a scene to behold. We stopped off at one of the many campsites along the road to Korixas just in time to watch a spectacular sunset. We settled in for the evening, enjoyed a tuna salad for dinner and just as we were finishing up the heavens opened and we experienced a true convectional thunderstorm. We took the opportunity to shower in the Donkey heated (an old fashioned style of heating water where fire heats the water which is then piped into the shower.) showers and when we were done the clouds had cleared up and the stars were shining brightly.

2010-04-13

Kirk really does struggle to sleep in and he had us both up at sunrise. I took the opportunity to cook us a breakfast of fried egg on toast and after packing up we headed into Korixas. We had lost mobile phone reception way back at Mile 108 before heading into the Skeleton Coast Recreational Park and had not been able to get hold of Joe and Christine to let them know where we would be so our best bet would be to get to the nearest big town and take it from there. Korixas was a small town but had the bare essentials; diesel, bread and mobile phone signal. We got hold of the others and headed 60km down the road to the turn off to explore Southern Damaraland. The scenery was again spectacular. This is the real wilderness with very few settlements and no fences which allows the animals to roam freely around the area. We stopped off at a place called the ‘Organ Pipes’. This is a huge basalt deposit which resembles that of organ pipes. It wasn’t that spectacular but again an interesting spot from a geographical point of view.

The day had been long with plenty of driving and the time had come to decide where we would rest our heads for the evening. We headed north from Korixas and scanned the land for a suitable spot to bushcamp for the evening. This proved to be quite difficult as most of the land is fenced as they are privately owned beef ranches and game farms. We spotted a break in the fence along a B road and found a great spot to camp. It was like camping in the wilderness as we had antelope around us and a vast array of birdlife. We made a warming bonfire, cooked some meat and enjoyed another wholesome meal finished off with grilled marshmallows.

2010-04-14 to 2010-04-15

Before leaving our bush camp we were fortunate enough to see a chameleon tottering across the sand. He was completely unperturbed by the close proximity of us to him and carried on his merry little way. Today we were heading for Northern Damaraland and Sesfontein in the hope of seeing some mystical desert elephants. We stopped off at the small town of Kamanjab where we visited the local butcher. He had massive stocks of game meat and biltong. We bought some drywors, biltong and a kudu fillet. Believe it or not, game meat is cheaper than beef in these parts of the world so we cashed in whilst we could. We drove to Grootberg and then Sesfontein where again we bypassed some concession areas that were full of game. Antelope by the hundreds, giraffes and zebra but no ellies or rhino. Sesfontein was supposed to be the local hangout for the elephants but on our final quest for these nomadic creatures we came out empty handed; although come to think of it, we did have plenty of fun playing in the mud. Whilst traversing some flood plain in search of the ellies, the rain from the night before had soaked the ground and had caused some inconspicuous muddy sections. Mvubu managed to get very very stuck! Namibia was becoming a problem! We had travelled down the West Coast of Africa, through desert sands and tropical rainforests and not once was there a need for any of the recovery gear we had lugged from England. This muddy affair had finally called for the winch! With Joe and Christine’s car pulling from the front and Mvubu engaged in low range with all the differentials locked we managed to get Mvubu’s heavy body out of the wallowing mud! It was a good start to the morning and certainly had us more and more weary about what Namibia had in store for us. We headed north again in the direction of Opuwo to stock up on some groceries. Opuwo has a strange air about it. There are so many diverse cultures roaming the streets. The most obvious were the Himba ladies who paint themselves in a red sand and animal fat concoction, have hair braids smeared in the same paste and roam around bare breasted with a variety of necklaces and bangles made from animal skins and leather. They were a striking sight and reminded ourselves that we were still in Africa in the land of the traditional Himba herders. Opuwo was also full of the Herero ladies who unlike the Himba ladies wore a full on Victorian style attire. These dresses were made from yards and yards of fabric that flared from the waist down. Quite elaborate for the extreme heat that the Namibian summers bring. The history behind this is that when the European settlers arrived in Namibia back in the early 1900’s they were appalled to see the Herero ladies walking around bare breasted and half naked so they decided to dress them in the European style clothing. This has stuck for many decades and along with a strangely shaped headdress they do look as if they have stepped off the set of a 1900 settler’s movie. The Himba tribes are similar to those of the Masai Mara in that they are nomadic cattle herders and originated in the West so the Himba ladies were not influenced by the European settlers.

After this cultural extravaganza we took a slow drive towards Ruacanna  and settled at Eha Lodge – a well positioned campsite with excellent facilities. We cooked the Kudu steak on the braai and prepared ourselves mentally for the journey that we would be faced with the following morning. We had been told that the road from Ruacanna Falls to Epupa Falls was impassable as the Kunene River was in flood. We were excited at the prospect of more adventure (we hadn’t quite used all of the recovery gear yet) and so decided that the following day would be the day of reckoning.

2010-04-16

Ruacanna falls were very impressive. It was dammed as part of a hydro-electric scheme many years ago and most of the year the falls resemble that of a trickle but with all of the slew gates open it was an extraordinary sight. The river was in flood and the powerful water was plundering into the Kunene River below. We knew that it would be a challenging day for everyone and so after taking a few photos we set off in a westerly direction along the banks of the Kunene.

The route started off easily with only a few shallow river crossings that didn’t seem too big a deal. We were beginning to wonder if all of the hype that people we re making about the route to Epupa was because they had not experienced on the scale that we had. After having travelled down the west coast of Africa you sometimes have to take what people describe as a bad road with a pinch of salt because we have experienced roads that probably should not be classified as roads as they were in an appalling state. After our 3rd shallow crossing we came across 2 vehicles that had driven from Kunene River Lodge. We asked them what the road was like and their response was; ‘Interesting!’ We asked them to elaborate a little and the driver of the front vehicle said that the one crossing had water coming over his bonnet! This was a bad road after all. We continued on and followed the tracks made by the other 2 vehicles which made our lives a little easier. There were many diversions going up steep hills rather than taking the original road which was now flooded. At the sections where we needed to cross through deep water, Kirk would happily send me to wade through the water to see how deep it was. I, being naïve and not considering what could be lurking in the depths of the murky water, happily waded, thigh deep, through the water. Kirk would then follow in Mvubu and I would act as the photographer and be happily content when everybody was across the deep water. We reached one section of the river that had a very steep bank and then plunged into deep water. Mvubu is slightly top heavy with the roof tent and roof box and with the angle being very precipitous his back wheel started to lift off the ground. Christine, Joe and I all jumped onto the bumper in the hope that the additional weight would prevent Mvubu from tumbling into the water sideways. It worked and Kirk steered Mvubu through the water and safely onto the other side. My nerves were shot and we were only 1/3 of the way through the ‘adventure’. I gathered all of my wits and prepared myself for the next challenge…another deep river crossing. After seriously considering the possibility that there could be some crocodiles lurking in the depths of the water, I made Kirk walk beside me and then made him walk back on his own. Cruel I know! Mvubu managed to get through the next crossing in a matter of seconds with water just reaching below his headlights; TIA (Joe and Christine’s car) had other plans. Without a snorkel we knew there was a small possibility that she would stall midway but if she created a big enough wake in front of her then there would be no problem. She was not happy and decided to loose power mid water. Again it was out with the recovery gear and Mvubu had to tow her out onto dry land. The air filter was a little bit soggy but no water had gotten into the engine so after a little bit of coughing and spluttering she was good to go again.

 It was about 10 minutes later that we were faced with yet another obstacle. This one was a river crossing of mammoth proportions. I had walked the river and the water had come up to just below my bum, it was going to be a difficult crossing. Joe and Christine couldn’t turn around and we were ¾ of the way through and so we decided it would be best to tow them through the water. We stuffed plastic bags into the air filter and after careful consideration of which route to take, Mvubu leapt into the water and tugged TIA through. We had made it! The cars had been given a superb under body clean courtesy of the flooded Kunene but we were exhausted and in desperate need of a nerve calming drink.

We found refuge at the Kunene River Lodge where we camped up for the evening. It was the perfect setting to end our very eventful day – The Kunene River lapping at the shores as the sun set on the horizon.

2010-04-17 to 2010-04-19

After a restful night of dreamless sleep we rose to another spectacular morning. We said goodbye to Gert at Kunene River Lodge – who assured us that there was only another 4km of bad road to cover before hitting a good gravel road. We were pleased to hear this and set off with peace of mind and me being very grateful that I didn’t have to make another, crocodile fearing, river crossing.

The road to Epupa Falls was just dreamy in comparison to the route we had taken the previous day. If the road was passable we would have preferred to drive the route along the river but due to the flooding it was impossible and so we had to stick to the conventional road that delivered us to Epupa in 3 hours. The falls again were a notable sight with the water gushing over the edge and plummeting into a pool below. It amazed me to see Baobab trees rooted into rocks on the sheer edge of the waterfall and not to be uprooted by the force of the water. We see up camp at Epupa Falls Campsite in time for lunch and a relaxing afternoon. The Campsite had a fancy new deck that had a flat screen TV and was showing the Sharks vs Lions Super 14 rugby match. This being the 1st rugby match we had watched since leaving England was a treat and even better with the Sharks being victorious over the Lions. Whilst watching the rugby we met Pam and Warren, manager and contractor of a new lodge being built on the top of the hill overlooking the falls. They invited us up to their place for sundowners after the rugby which we thankfully accepted and took a drive to watch the sun set behind the mountains. With good company and conversation passing the hours by the evening turned into a late night and saw Kirk and me walking down the hill to our tent close to midnight. We promised to return in the morning to help Warren with his solar panels so that they could have a regular supply of electricity.

The previous evening’s consumption of beer and wine had made us both weary and we gingerly stepped down from our tent whereby I made us omelettes and toast for breakfast washed down with cream soda. We said goodbye to Joe and Christine and wished them well for the rest of their travels and headed back up the hill to Pam and Warren where Kirk lent a hand in getting the solar panels to operate. We were invited back for dinner that evening and returned down the hill to prepare a salad and pack up as we were to spend the night at the new lodge. Dinner was lovely. Pam had spent most of the day in the kitchen preparing an array of dishes and I gladly lent my hand at assisting with the pastry for the apple pie and stirring various different pots at different times. It was great to cook in a proper kitchen again.

2010-04-19 to 2010-04-24

The next few days saw Kirk and me driving to Etosha where I would spend my 29th birthday. The pans at Etosha were still very wet from the late rainy season and the grass was still very high so game viewing was something of hit and miss. We entered the park relatively early and drove along the various routes but were not fortunate enough to see much of anything. We headed to Leeubron after lunch and were struck with our 1st bit of fortune, a lioness with her 3 cubs. This was just too beautiful and we spent half and hour watching the cubs wean and play. The lioness was not too concerned by our presence and was happy for us to photograph her and her gorgeous babies.

With our enthusiasm restored we decided to go in search of elephants. We drove to Anderson’s Dam, situated quite far west in the park and on our way there through hordes and hordes of Antelope, Gemsbok, Wildebeest, Giraffes, Zebra and Warthog, we spotted a lone bull elephant making his way to drink at the watering hole. We parked downwind from the beast and patiently willed him along to the water. After 20 minutes he eventually took his first drink from the dam and we relished every moment of him dousing himself with water. Time had ticked on and we had to get to Halali Camp, 78km away, before sunset. We had to pass the elephant on the road which didn’t go down too well with Mr Ellie. As we drove past he got defensive, trumpeted his trunk and came charging at us. I was told to take photos whilst Kirk drove away as quickly as possible.

We made it to Halali in the knick of time and settled in for the evening. After dinner we visited the spot lit watering hole whereby we were fortunate enough to witness 2 black rhino going about a mating ritual. In the distance we could hear another rhino coming to drink and when he arrived the 2 males started ‘fighting’ over the female. We could have watched for hours and hours but after an hour of flapping away at the mosquitoes and bugs we decided to call it a day and head back to our tent. The noise of rubbish bins being pushed over became more pronounced when we arrived back at our campsite; a mischievous little honey badger was raiding the bins to salvage any edible scraps for his dinner.

The following morning saw me 1 year older and both Kirk and me out of the Halali gates into the park by 6am. We again were very fortunate to see a pride of 7 lions at a watering hole and a lone elephant making her way across a plain. We headed out of Etosha at lunchtime and made our way towards Grootfontein and eventually Roy’s Camp. When we arrived we noticed that Neil and Catherine had also arrived at Roy’s Camp earlier that day. We caught up with them and enjoyed a braai for dinner and celebrated my birthday with a good bottle of South African Merlot.

2010-04-22 to 2010-04-24

The following 2 days saw us exploring the Caprivi region. We said goodbye to Neil and Catherine and drove towards Rundu. It appears that Kirk and I are afraid of running out of food because every time we spot a Shoprite we just cannot resist going in to either gawk at the food or buy copious amounts of meat and fresh veggies. After our shopping we headed to Rainbow Lodge where we settled for the evening. The camp was set right on the Okavango River which was also in flood. The water had engulfed 2 of the campsites and it was alarming to see a bold yellow sign saying ‘Beware Crocodiles!’ Apparently the owner of the camp had lost his Bull Mastiff 2 weeks ago to a 4 meter crocodile. We were very weary and stayed a good distance away from the water. As luck would have it, whilst cooking dinner and sitting around the campfire 2 crocodiles decided to come and visit us and were lurking in the shallows of the river with their red eyes catching the light of the torch. Once more, the sound of hippos grunting in the background was enough to give any faint hearted person a coronary. I certainly would not be visiting the loo in the middle of the night!

Our natural alarm clocks kick in at around 6:30am and so we go about our morning routine of coffee, breakfast, packing up the tent, ablutions and finally saying goodbye to the people we have met. We set our noses east and headed for the border town of Katima Mulilo. This would be our last stop before crossing into our 17th African country, Zambia. We decided to head along the banks of the Zambezi River in search of a campsite that could offer us some sort of fishing activity before we left Namibia and Island View looked to be the perfect location for that. We drove along the raised road and noticed that the water was flowing exceptionally fast and had flooded several villages. Again the late rains had flooded the Zambezi and the villagers were being housed in temporary army tents until the rains and river subsided. The locals used the high water level to catch small fish with their nets and it was interesting to see them commuting by boat between villages that were on higher ground.

The road to Island View had been washed away and it was only accessible by boat. We were not prepared to leave Mvubu at the pick up point and so decided to find another place to camp for he evening. The only unflooded option was the Zambezi River Lodge, a Protea Hotel chain that offered camping. The campsite was gorgeous, right on the banks of the Zambezi. We completed a few chores before enjoying a quiet evening gazing across the mighty Zambezi into Zambia, our next African country.

Namibia had been a wonderful country to visit. It provided us with a little bit of luxury as well as a lot of adventure. It was a comforting feeling to know that we would be returning to explore the southern sections near the end of our African adventure.

[book id=’22’ /]